Players of the game Foldit, designed to assist scientists in understanding how complex proteins fold, have solved one particularly thorny protein folding problem. The results were published in Nature, with gamers and scientists as co-authors.
What’s most cool about this is the way the game’s designers obviously were comfortable with the idea that games can be put to serious and important uses (or that serious objectives might be reached more quickly if paired with a little fun). To me, this bodes well for the short and long term, in that others will be able to see the benefits of such experiments, perhaps even accelerating the funding and support cycles for them.
Of course not all, or perhaps not even most, of these kinds of experiments are likely to bear intellectual fruit. But having a relatively early example of success should embolden others to try new approaches. Good news all around.